During the 4th meeting of SAARC Home/Interior Ministers recently in Thimpu, Bhutan, India has proposed regular direct contact among police chiefs of SAARC nations to fight terrorism and other trans-national crime, and formation of a regional organisation on the lines of Interpol, called SAARCPOL.

Underlying that fighting terror and other trans-national crimes in a unified manner was one of the principal agendas of SAARC, India’s Home Secretary R K Singh said that India has proposed exchange of emails between all the police chiefs of the region, to forge a level of personal communication that would aid better coordination between police forces of individual nations.

“Let the chiefs of police forces start talking more often. We already have two desks one on terrorism and one on drug control. Let this desk work properly and then we can talk further”, he further said, before adding that while the proposal has been in circulation for some time, a moratorium on setting up any new organisation by SAARC. “We have a very good system in Interpol. We feel for the need of it. But, you know, sometime back, the SAARC had decided to put a moratorium on new organisation because we already have a lot of organisations and they want these organisations to settle down first before going to set up a new organisation. So that decision stands,” he further added, to complete the life cycle of the idea!

Interestingly (for non South Asians anyway), the issue was taken up in the last meeting in Islamabad as well, but it remained at the ‘conceptual’ stage (euphemism for gossip over a cup of tea and sandwiches, eh?), as most nations stressed on “resolving other issues through a proper mechanism before moving on to this area”.

Get the drift?

SAARC is mired in a history of proposing outlandish programs and organisations while giving precious little attention to the same issues on individual nation-state level. Very typical of South Asian societies, SAARC is big on the ‘Chaupaal’ (public square corner meetings) chatter tradition, but pretty low on action on ground.

It may be noted that it was way back in 1988 – August 22, 1988 to be precise – that SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism had come into effect. Five years later, on November 05, 1993, SAARC Regional Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances had come into being. And on January 12 2006, the Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism had come into existence.

That’s not all; Article VII of the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism deals with mutual assistance and exchange of information. Two desks, namely, the SDOMD and the STOMD, were created in the years 1992 and 1995 respectively to implement the provisions of the SAARC Conventions on Suppression of Terrorism and on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

It would be interesting to know how many people apart from senior journalists covering the SAARC ‘beat’ and concerned academicians have even heard of those conventions. And yes, I am putting those questions even to senior police officers of the respective nations.

And that despite the fact that so far, nine editions (Colombo, 1996; Malé, 1997; Kathmandu, 2002; Islamabad, 2004; Dhaka, 2006; New Delhi, 2007; Islamabad, 2008; Islamabad, 2010 and Colombo, 2011) of Conference on Cooperation in Police Matters have already been held so far. As per SAARC officials, the Police Conferences have deliberated on a number of important matters relating to Networking arrangements among Police Authorities in the Member States, Concept Paper on the establishment of ‘SAARCPOL’, Prevention of organized crimes, combating corruption, drug abuse, drug trafficking and money laundering and training requirements of police officers and networking among Police authorities.

While all of that was going on, it would pertinent here to go back to the Thimpu meet of this week and note that it was at the 13th SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November, 2005 that, while condemning terrorist violence in all its forms and manifestations, it was decided that the SAARC Interior/Home Ministers would meet annually, preceded by a meeting of the Interior/Home Secretaries, to strengthen cooperation in this area. The first Meeting of SAARC Interior Ministers was held in Dhaka on May 11, 2006.

Can anyone please present a white paper on the decisions and results of these meets in the last five years?
To get an idea of how the myriad organisations, agencies and platforms within SAARC function, read the following statement from Her Excellency Uz. Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, Secretary General of SAARC at the Ninth SAARC Conference on Cooperation in Police Matters, Colombo, 5 April 2011:

At successive Summits, the Leaders of SAARC have reiterated the need to give high priority to the enactment of enabling legislation at the national level to give effect to the two Conventions and the Additional Protocol. In order to meet that end, the Leaders have stressed the need for constant dialogue and interaction among the concerned agencies of SAARC Member States. With this directive in mind, the Meetings of Focal Points of STOMD and SDOMD, followed by the SAARC Conferences on Cooperation in Police Matters, are held on a regular basis.

So then, how many people and agencies have been talking – ‘on a regular basis’ – for how many years now?

The moot point is, as mentioned in one of earlier columns, the instinctive action in South Asia towards fixing the issue of non-progress by any agency is formation of a couple of more agencies to look into it.

More crucially, why would anyone who is even remotely conversant with the South Asian region ever hope for any concrete results from these never-ending ‘talks on regular basis’, when history-fixated disputes between member nations, especially between India and Pakistan, show absolutely no sign of moving an inch forward, forget getting resolved? The whole circus of police cooperation seminars are exercises in futility, paid by the very hapless populace that longs for the region to move out of the vortex.

Ergo, it is difficult to tell at the moment if SAARCPOL (even with the revised concept paper that was discussed in Colombo in April) would eventually become INTERPOL of South Asia because it is difficult to tell at the moment if SAARCPOL would indeed eventually be.


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